Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Question About Comparing God as the Greatest Possible Being

This particular post is in response to a comment I have received. It is as follows:

I think there is a problem with premise 1; or more specifically the notion of 'greatness' or even 'excellence' used here. Namely, you have to justify the possibility that two objects can be compared for how much greatness they have in any sense.

Imagine if I asked 'which is greater, an apple or a Porsche'. How would you even attempt to answer that question without appealing to contingent facts or relative factors?

The notion that some things are greater then other *sounds* intuitive, but I've never seen an account that wasn't basing this claim on human prejudices.
Now, strictly speaking, the problem isn’t that we need to justify the possibility that two objects can be compared for greatness in just any sense, but a metaphysical sense. We must also remember the mere fact that some pair of two objects cannot be compared in the relevant sense does not imply that it is the case that no pair of two objects can be compared in the relevant sense.[1]
Next, there seems to be a misunderstanding of justification and prejudices. If something is truly intuitive, then what is the problem? In the absence of a defeater, we are justified in holding rational intuitions. Nonetheless, none of that is a positive case for comparing two objects in the relevant sense; it is just a defense against the objections. However, Yujin Nagasawa, of the University of Birmingham, has recently published a paper entitled “Models of Anselmian Theism.”[2]
Your example is, specifically, a display of what is called “universal value commensurability”[3] (UVC). Quoting exactly, UVC claims that “every possible being is value commensurable,”[4] which, as you have shown, is at least highly problematic (if not flatly false). But why should the theist be compelled to embrace UVC?
Instead, all that is required is that at least some commensurability is possible; namely, between God and all non-divine objects. For lack of wanting to re-type Nagasawa’s article, the point is that God is a metaphysically-greater being because of great-making properties on an absolute scale. What that means is that such a property, if gained, would make its bearer greater, and it would not be any worse for any other being to have such a property. What Nagasawa offers us is a type of “extended radial model” of greatness, where a kind of “comprehensive greatness” is held.[5]
This greatness means possessing great-making properties, each to a greater degree than non-divine beings (even the merely possible ones). A great-making property is one it is better for some being to have than to lack. Take omniscience, for example. Reduce it simply to the property of knowing. Surely knowing is a property it is metaphysically better to have than to lack (if one doubts this, I would ask if it would be better for you to know that you doubt it than to lack that knowledge)! Therefore, knowing is a great-making property (of course, it may take all sorts of objects, and that is a story for another time). So, we see this objection really does not get off the ground; it is clear that God can be compared to possible, non-divine beings in such a way. In fact, the only way this objection can succeed is to show that God is actually comparable with no possible non-divine beings whatsoever. That seems unlikely.
1 That would be like someone claiming that because some fact is not logically necessary, no facts are!

2 Yujin Nagasawa, “Models of Anselmian Theism,” in Faith and Philosophy, Vol. 30, No. 1 (January 2013:), 3-25.

3 Ibid., 6.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid., 16.

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